The TSL’s Grindhouse: The Vindicator (dir by Jean-Claude Lord)


The 1986 film, The Vindicator, is one of those Canadian exploitation films that doesn’t make much sense but is still memorable just because of how dedicated it is to being utterly incoherent.

Basically, an evil corporate guy named Alex Whyte (played by Richard Cox) wants to design a space suit that will turn people into rage-filled assassins. Or something like that. To be honest, I had a hard time following just what exactly Alex was trying to do. When one of his scientists, Carl Lehman (David Mcllwraith), figures out that Alex is up to something sinister, Alex blows him up. Alex then puts Carl’s charred body into the suit and Carl is transformed into a cyborg who flies into a murderous rage whenever anyone gets too close to him. That’s not exactly what Carl was hoping to spend the rest of his life doing so Carl breaks free from the lab and seeks revenge while also trying to protect his wife (Terri Austin) and his daughter (Catherine Disher). Unfortunately, because of the whole rage thing, Carl can’t allow himself to get close to them but somehow, he figures out how to speak to them through the synthesizer that’s sitting in the living room.

Now that Carl is wandering around Canada and killing all of his former co-workers, Alex decides that he needs to do something to take Carl out of commission so he hires an assassin known as Hunter. Hunter is played by Pam Grier. Yes, that’s right — the Pam Grier! Soon, Hunter and her team are pursuing Carl across Canada and, in the process, they end up killing almost as many people as Carl. And those people who aren’t killed by Carl or Hunter fall victim to the types of accidents that could only happy in a Canadian exploitation film. For instance, in one scene, a truck drives over a guard rail and immediately explodes.

Meanwhile, Carl’s friend, Bert (played by Maury Chaykin because this is a Canadian film), is falling in love with Carl’s wife and plotting to try to take her away from her cyborg husband. At first, Bert appears to be a sympathetic character and then, about an hour into the movie, Bert is suddenly not sympathetic at all. The same can actually be said for just about everyone in the film, which will lead most viewers to wonder just why exactly we should care about whether or not Carl is ever stopped.

It’s a messy film. For a relatively short and presumably low-budget film, there’s a lot of characters in The Vindicator and it’s not always clear how everyone is related. Since Carl kills most of them, I can only assume that they’re all bad but still, you can’t help but wonder if maybe Carl is being a bit too quick to assume that everyone was okay with him getting blown up. Carl is one judgmental cyborg.

Supposedly, special effects maestro Stan Winston was involved with the production of The Vindicator and, to give credit where credit is due, Carl does look like what I guess most people would expect a cyborg to look like. In fact, when I watched the movie, I originally assumed that it was a Robocop rip-off but then I discovered that The Vindicator actually came out a year before Robocop. That’s not to say, of course, that The Vindicator was, in any way, an influence on Robocop. Beyond the cyborg-theme, the two films really have nothing in common. Robocop is a satirical commentary on fascism. The Vindicator is …. well, I’m not really sure what it’s supposed to be.

The Vindicator is a mess. It’s one of those films where no one’s motivations make any sense and it is often next to impossible to actually keep track of who is who. (The actors playing Alex and Carl looked so much alike that it took me a few minutes to figure out that Carl was the one who got blown up.) And yet, like many Canadian exploitation films from the 80s, The Vindicator is also compulsively watchable. The actions move quickly. The entire plot has a make-it-up-as-you-go-along feel to it that’s kind of entertaining. Plus, Pam Grier’s in the film, openly rolling her eyes at just how silly it all is. The Vindicator isn’t exactly good but it did hold my interest. All things considered, maybe that’s vindication enough.

A Halloween Film Review: Seizure (1974, directed by Oliver Stone)


seizure1Everyone had to start somewhere and, long before he became one of the leading political provocateurs of American cinema, Oliver Stone was just another struggling film school grad who was looking for a chance to make a name for himself.  Like many aspiring filmmakers, Stone made his directorial debut with a low-budget horror film.

Filmed in Quebec and featuring an eclectic cast that included a soap opera star, a former Warhol superstar, a faded teen idol, a past Bond girl, and a future Bond villain, Seizure stars Jonathan Frid (of Dark Shadows fame) as Edmund Blackstone.  Edmund is a horror novelist who is described as being “a modern-day Edgar Allan Poe.”  When Edmund’s rich friends get together for the weekend, they are terrorized by three maniacs: the Queen of Evil (Martine Beswick), a mute giant called the Jackal (Henry Judd Baker), and a psychotic dwarf named The Spider (Hervé Villechaize).  

All of Edmund’s guests face the inevitability of death in a different way.  Playboy Mark Frost (Troy Donahue) is too concerned with pursuing pleasure to realize that he’s in danger.  Businessman Charlie Hughes (Joseph Sirola) gets out his wallet and tries to buy his way out of trouble.  Mikki (Mary Woronov), Charlie’s much younger wife, strips down to her underwear and runs away.  Eunice Kahn (Anne Meachem) jumps out of a window after the Spider ticks her into using an aging cream.  Eunice’s husband, philosopher Serge (Roger de Koven), faces death with stoicism.  Edmund’s brother-in-law, Gerald (Richard Cox), is a long-haired hippie who accidentally gets shot in the head by Edmund and dies saying, “You bastard!”  Edmund’s wife (Christina Pickles) tries to protect her son (Timothy Ousey) and Edmund reveals himself to be the first of the many flawed father figures who would appear in Stone’s films.

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If not for the identity of its director, Seizure would be a forgotten film.  In fact, it seems to be a film that Stone wishes was forgotten.  He rarely mentions it in interviews and usually describes Seizure as being a “learning experience” and there’s really nothing about Seizure that would make you think the director would go on to win three Oscars.  It’s a slow and talky movie that is just occasionally weird enough to be interesting.  Seizure‘s philosophical digressions are pure Stone but otherwise, it’s hard to see any sign of the director that Stone would become in Seizure.

Still, what other movie features Jonathan Frid and Mary Woronov having a knife fight while Martine Beswick and Hervé Villechaize watch?

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Adventures in Cleaning Out The DVR: A Mother Betrayed (dir by Michael Feifer)


A Mother Betrayed

After I finished up my review of Seeds of Yesterdayit was time to rewatch and review A Mother Betrayed.  Last Sunday, A Mother Betrayed premiered on Lifetime.  I watched it and I had a lot of fun live-tweeting it.  Seriously, it’s a fun movie.

The plot may, at first, sound similar to Dangerous Company but A Mother Betrayed quickly establishes it own nicely berserk identity.  When we first meet Monica (Lynn Collins) and Jonathan (David Paetku), they’re standing on the beach and declaring their love for each other.  Since this is a Lifetime movie, we know that early declarations of undying love will only lead to tragedy.  Sure enough, Monica and Jonathan are soon in a car accident.  Monica, who was pregnant at the time, survives.  Jonathan does not.

Just forward 3 years and Monica is now a single mother who is obsessed with her job (she’s in charge of an architectural firm) and her daughter, Maddy (Ariella and Isabella Nurkovic).  At a party, her assistant, Lisa (Bree Williamson) introduces her to a single man named Kevin (Adam Kaufman).  Within a few minutes of meeting, Monica and Kevin are in love.  Ignoring the concerns of her mother (Joanna Cassidy), Monica marries Kevin.  Kevin adopts Maddy and appears to be both the perfect father and the perfect husband.

But is he!?

Well, the name of the movie is A Mother Betrayed

It turns out that Kevin has plans of his own and Lisa, the perfect assistant, is a part of them.  Of course, what’s interesting is that Maddy is a part of Kevin’s scheme as well.  No, Maddy is not conspiring against her mother.  However, it quickly becomes obvious that Kevin really does love Maddy and he actually is a pretty good father.  He wants to take over Monica’s business because he’s greedy but he wants custody of Maddy because he appears to genuinely love her.  That plot development brings an unexpected amount of depth to this Lifetime movie.

(And other plot development that I, speaking as an administrative assistant who happens to be named Lisa, appreciated was that the movie’s Lisa actually made a pretty good point when she eventually taunted Monica by pointing out that Lisa was doing a better job running the company than Monica ever did.  Up to that point, everything that we had seen in the movie seemed to indicate that Lisa was correct.  Between Kevin’s parenting and Lisa’s efficiency, the villains of A Mother Betrayed were nicely nuanced.)

Much as in Dangerous Company, Monica soon finds herself suffering from terrible headaches, forgetfulness, and even hallucinations.  Kevin arranges for Monica to be committed because, in the tradition of all paranoia thrillers, literally everyone appears to be in on the plot — even the doctors!

However, Monica is not alone!  She starts to see Jonathan.  Is she hallucinating or has his spirit really returned to help her?

A Mother Betrayed was a lot of fun and I recommend it to everyone who wants to watch an enjoyably over-the-top Lifetime melodrama.  The entire cast does a pretty good job, with Adam Kaufman even managing to generate some sympathy for the duplicitous Kevin.  (Seriously, Kevin is so good with Maddy!)

Finally, on a strictly personal note, there’s no way that I couldn’t appreciate a film that features an administrative assistant named Lisa.  Finally, a character to which I could relate!

Seriously though, Lifetime replays their movies constantly.  A Mother Betrayed is one to keep an eye out for.